The Life And Times Of A Moderate Vegetarian
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After 18 years of being a vegetarian I've changed a lot both as a person, and also in the way that I view my choice to be one in the first place.
During that time, society and the way vegetarians are perceived has (somewhat) changed as well. Most people have at least heard of vegetarianism and know what it is. Most restaurants offer some vegetarian options now, where just 18 years ago there were virtually none.
I went through various stages of development: from the know-it-all, to the extremist, to the morally superior, to the quiet vegetarian, to what I am now, a moderate vegetarian.
This is an ode to my journey thus far, and a view into the life of a normal, moderate (not extremist, not wishy-washy) vegetarian.
Video: Amazing Vegetarian Facts
^ Watch the video at YouTube.com ^
In 1996 I was nineteen years old and had graduated high school earlier that year. While attending a few classes at the local university, I got a full-time job flipping burgers at McDonald's. Before long I was the grill manager, in charge of all the food preparation at the restaurant.
I've always been an empathetic person, so when I came across Moby's album "Everything Is Wrong" and read his essays and information about vegetarianism in the liner notes, I was greatly affected by the facts about factory farming that he presented.
That, coupled with my brother's having just "gone vegetarian," and my full-time job scraping animals off the grill (only to toss them in the trash) formed the impetus needed for me to become an instant convert: one day I just "went vegetarian." I've never really looked back until now.
I had no goals in mind, other than not contributing to a system I found to be out of hand. I didn't know I'd be a vegetarian now, 18 years later, but I did know that I didn't want to be part of the dogmatic system that existed at the time (and that I didn't agree with.)
It wasn't difficult once I weighed the pluses and minuses overall. And to be honest, once I stopped eating meat I knew I was on the right path for me.
Back in 1996 vegetarianism was still seen as a wild and insane choice, and there was very little awareness or understanding of it. It was seen as a diet for dirty hippies and others of their ilk, and we were often portrayed as weak and unhealthy. It made me feel like a rebel (which I guess I kind of was.)
Going on a road trip across the country with my parents that summer, each restaurant we stopped at only offered fries and salad as vegetarian options. By the end of that vacation, my brother and I were so tired of salads and french fries I don't think we ate them again for months.
So eating out was a family drama, as was finding vegetarian food in the grocery store that wasn't just straight-up raw vegetables. The few things that did exist were mostly disgusting contrivances. We may have been vegetarian, but that didn't mean we had no taste buds. Making pizzas with fruit paste instead of tomato sauce must appeal to someone, but that someone isn't me!
For the most part, I just did my own thing and hoped society would catch up to the growing trend, which it finally has. It's character-forming, to say the least, to go against the tide, and I'm glad I was strong enough to get through the rough spots at the beginning.
Video: Famous Veggie Athletes
- Protein. Don't ask us how we get our protein. I'm not sure how many times I've been asked this question, but by now it's got to be in the multiple hundreds. Protein is one of the easiest nutrients to get, and it's virtually in everything. When I did my 2-week dietary assessment, I found out I'd been consuming twice the protein I was supposed to. Vegetarian protein comes from vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, tofu, soy, nuts, seeds, and yeast flakes. There is NO shortness of protein in our diets at all.
- Skinny wimps. Many believe that vegetarians are skinny weaklings. It's possibly true with what we call "junk food vegetarians," or those who eat total crud. For those of us who eat a balanced mix of vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits, our bodies are actually extremely healthy! Scientific evidence has found that the best athletes in ancient Rome, the gladiators, were strictly vegetarian. People commonly called them the "barley crunchers!" Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2008) 7, 565.
- Vitamin addicts. It's commonly believed that vegetarians will be missing tons of core vitamins from a "deficient" diet; however, that's not the case. It's easy to achieve total health with a mix of veggies, grains, nuts, and fruits. We read every food label religiously, and our entire lifestyle is focused around nutritional awareness.
- It's hard. Actually it's not difficult, and is very fulfilling. If you try it for a couple weeks, you'll notice significant changes, such as when I realized my acid reflux was completely gone. The most difficult thing is dealing with all the negativity surrounding it, but to be honest, since I started letting bygones be bygones, I've had no issues whatsoever.
PETA & The Extremists
I'm not proud of my time as a vegetarian extremist, but am content in the fact that it was a short phase in my development and my understanding of things. I felt at odds with society, and also felt extreme empathy for the animals being subjected to the tortures of factory farms and animal testing.
This combination, probably along with my young age, made me perfect fodder for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.) Though I wasn't militant, still my attitude was less than helpful. There is no reason to sacrifice humans for animals or animals for humans. I don't agree with either way of looking at things.
At the time, I didn't realize what PETA was, or pick up on their negativity, insanity, or the fact that they do more harm for the movement than any other organization. I was a teenager full of ideals, angst, empathy, and swirling emotions. PETA seemed to be composed of the same types of people, and being part of it made me feel accepted and supported.
It wasn't until later that I distanced myself both from PETA and its followers. While the idea is agreeable, and I totally agree that horrible things happen to animals, the way they go about things only serves to alienate not only non-vegetarians, but vegetarians like myself as well.
Learning of PETA's total hypocrisy (they kill 98% of the animals they "save") swiftly moved me onto my next phase. To put it in a nutshell, I finally realized they are a money-making factory that masquerades as an animal welfare organization. They do some good work, but it's vastly overshadowed by their hypocrisy and hatred.
Once I learned to be confident in my choices, I steered clear of this negativity.
My Vegetarian Phases
Some Famous Vegetarians
- Albert Einstein
- Albert Schweitzer
- Alec Baldwin
- Benjamin Franklin
- Billy Idol
- Brad Pitt
- Carl Lewis
- Christian Bale
- Clint Eastwood
- Ellen DeGeneres
- George Bernard Shaw
- Kirk Hammett
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Mike Tyson
- Nikola Tesla
- Ozzy Osbourne
- President Bill Clinton
- Robert Smith
- Rob Zombie
- Shania Twain
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Know-it-all: In this early stage I knew that I was smarter than everyone else, and that my diet was the best for everyone else. I didn't realize until later that I was just alienating people and giving a bad name to vegetarians.
- Extremist: After finding out the gruesome facts about factory farming, the meat industry, and animal testing, my empathy kicked in. But after being mocked for this empathy, I turned to the only place I knew about, PETA, and became an extreme vegetarian.
- Morally superior: I was, after all, taking the so-called moral high road, and that made me a better person than anyone else who chose the so-called moral low road. I had no more tolerance of people thinking the inhumane treatment of animals was somehow acceptable. I was very judgmental and it was hypocritical of me to love animals but hate people.
- Quiet: After I realized that I was just living my own life the way I wanted to live it, I scorned any type of conversation about my vegetarianism whatsoever. It was nobody's business but my own, and I didn't feel the need to proselytize. I was making personal amends for all my harshness in the preceding years. I felt bad for having been such a creep.
- Informative: After clamming up for years about why I became a vegetarian, now when people would ask me about it (I never volunteered), I would give them all sorts of facts and sources. I was no longer trying to convince them, but was giving them some resources in case they were (actually) interested.
- Moderate: Now after 18 years and many phases, you could say I've mellowed considerably and just become what I am: a person living life the way I want to, based on my own views, knowledge, and empathy. If people want to know why I'm vegetarian, I'll tell them in a few lines. It's up to them to inquire further if they're interested. I stand by my choices and believe they're the best choices for me. I realize everyone is at different stages, just like I was, and still am.
Societal Defense Mechanisms
"How many vegetarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? I don't know, but where do you get your protein!?" Vegetarian jokes.
I understand it's easy to mess with people who are generally always totally serious about certain topics. I get that, and I have no problems poking fun at myself sometimes. But there is a definite note of straight up meanness directed toward us at times, and that's really what I'm most concerned about.
I've never quite understood the hatred that many people have toward vegetarians, but believe me, it is very real, and it is very prevalent. I'm not forcing my views on others, I'm not telling people how to live their lives, and I'm not judging people for eating meat. I ate meat for 19 years myself.
I'm not a vegetarian because I want to be a better person than you are. I'm a vegetarian because I have chosen a path that I feel to be the right one for me. I don't think it's right for others to judge me or mock my choices, or vice versa. My choices do not hurt others; in fact my goal is to be the change I want to see in the world.
I know I've brought up some of the negative aspects of both myself as I went through my various phases, and society's reactions to a vegetarian diet. That said though, there has been fantastic progress, both nationwide and worldwide, in the past 18 years.
I've traveled all over the place and have found that people generally know what a vegetarian is now, and almost always offer vegetarian menu options that entail more than just french fries and salad. Though ironically I don't eat out often at all anymore, when I do I no longer feel left out.
Grocery stores have entire food sections now just for vegetarians and vegans (strict vegetarians), and I've gotta say the range of foods and possibilities keeps growing each year. It's an exciting time to be a vegetarian, as there are more options now than ever before, and a larger support system of like-minded people.
Vegetarianism has finally become an accepted diet in the West, and with that comes more awareness about why we choose this lifestyle, and what it has to offer. That's for another day, but I hope you'll find the resources I've posted below helpful for now.
Easy Vegetarian Lasagna
- Large (9"x13") pan for baking
- 1 jar of tomato / pasta sauce
- 1 package flat lasagna noodles
- Package of ricotta cheese, vegan soy cheeze, or soft tofu (mashed)
- Grated cheese or soy cheeze for the top of the lasagna
- 3 cups lightly steamed vegetables (spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, etc.)
- Half-cook the lasagna noodles. They'll finish cooking in the oven.
- Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan and cover with a single layer of pre-cooked lasagna noodles.
- Spread 1/3 of ricotta or tofu mixture over the noodles using a spatula.
- Spread 1/3 of the lightly steamed vegetables over the noodles.
- Repeat for two more layers (noodles, sauce, ricotta/tofu, veggies)
- Grate some cheese / soy cheeze over the top
- Cover and bake for 35-45 minutes
- Remove the cover and let the cheese / soy cheeze on the top melt and turn golden
- Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 7-10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Resources In Case You're Curious
Tables, figures, menus, recipes, and food guides help you determine how to meet your nutritional requirements.
I may (or may not) write some day about why I'm vegetarian, but this isn't the place or the time to do so. That said, if you're interested, here are some sources to help you understand the reasons why millions of people have chosen this path, and to get you started if you want to give it a try.
- Why Become A Vegetarian? Health, Ethics, Environment
- Online Plant-Based Meal Planning App, MettaMeals
- 12 Steps To Becoming A Vegetarian, WikiHow
- How To Become A Vegetarian, The Easy Way
- Free Vegetarian Recipes, Vegan Outreach
- Local Vegetarian Restaurants, VegGuide
- The Vegetarian Resource Group, Here
- Vegetarian Nutrition, Here